The Box

Chapter 1 - VANESSA

The softness of satin. The sweet scent of citrus and spice.

My eyes flicker open to delicious shades of cherry, boysenberry and marmalade. A low grumble rises from the depths of my belly. I didn’t think dead souls experienced hunger.

That’s not to say I don’t have cravings. And not just in the food department. Easing my head to one side, I locate the source of the citrus and spice scent.
My gentleman, Raef. His cheek presses against my shoulder, and his muscled arm stretches across my hips.
He could be a statue if it weren’t for the slow rise and fall of his chest. I wonder how long it has been since he last slept. When did I, for that matter, before last night? It must’ve been several days.
And where are my two gods? Because Aroz and Grey are not here. But the soul threads connecting me to my men don’t stretch far; they’re still within Aroz’s palatial high-rise.
My attention returns to Raef, his angular features relaxed and dark lashes splayed over golden skin. I’m tempted to kiss him awake but figure he needs his beauty sleep, being mortal. Not to say I’m not mortal, but I’m also dead. An advantage in this case.
Besides, I could use a shower. A quick sniff of my pits… I detect nothing offensive, but my skin crawls with the want to have a few layers scrubbed away.
When I searched the bathroom for balm and lotion, I didn’t notice a shower, but there must be one.
I snake from under Raef’s resting arm and wriggle to the edge of the bed. Right now, I could really use some me time in the shower for a total body exfoliation. As I tread silently across the creamy marble floor toward the bathroom, my stomach growls; seems I have a hidden tiger on board.
Mm. I could eat a warm macadamia and white chocolate chip cookie right now. Guess it’s lucky I’m not in the Underworld, where they’re illegal.
Why the hell would cookies be illegal?
I make a mental note to ask Grey while my hidden tiger says, “Grrrrr.”
Seriously, Vanessa. Take a shower.
The bathroom is square with fancy off-white stone columns ribboned with veins of crimson and silver. I wriggle my toes on the slightly rough tiles underfoot, which are toasty warm. The room contains a marble counter with double sinks, a floor-to-ceiling mirror with ornate silver curlicues and the requisite porcelain throne — but no shower.
Then I notice, in the mirror’s reflection, a beam of light sneaking between two columns behind me and discover a cleverly concealed passage leading to…
I stop short, jaw dropping. Wow.
I stand at the edge of a bowl-shaped stone tub fed by its own personal waterfall. Rivulets sparkle as they roam and trickle over a moss-covered wall of volcanic stone before coalescing into a small torrent and tumbling into the pool.
Sunlight beams through an oval shaft cut into the solid rock above and glints across the falling water. Soft chirps and caws carry down the opening from what must be a rainforest above, and the scent of lilies spirals through the warm air as mist forms into droplets on my forearms.
The only thing missing from this magical place is a hot man. Or three.
At the tub’s edge, a stone hollow cradles an array of sponges, scrubs, soaps and shampoos. I walk down rough stone steps into water, a few degrees above body temperature, and grab a natural fiber scrubby as I go. Inhaling the pungency of lavender and spearmint, I get to work on my skin.
When I’m done, I let the miniature falls hammer sun-kissed water onto my shoulder blades, where achy muscles relax under its pummeling.
I tip my head back, letting the water beat through to my skull as I massage my curls. The shampoo tantalizes my nose with the fragrance of vanilla chai, and my mind fills with images of a creamy beverage flavored with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. I rub circles over my belly and turn my face toward the flow to scrub my cheeks.
This tub is far too big for one person, a low voice murmurs through my mind, especially, when that person is you, Vanessa. The flats of two large hands slide down my back and settle on my hips as my favorite Underworld god joins me under the torrent.
I turn to Grey, head tilting back to take in his gorgeous face, all sharp angles and smooth curves cut with a sculptor’s precision. Yes, a living sculpture of divine proportions and presently bared to my roving eyes.
He smiles like he heard my thoughts, and a trickle of something sweet and warm runs from my chest into my lower region. Maple syrup? A soft grumble escapes.
Grey’s smile turns into a frown. Hungry?
I nod. Which is odd because I haven’t felt hungry since…
You died, he finishes, his gaze turning thoughtful.
I lift an eyebrow while water continues to pound my neck and shoulders. What?
He shakes his head, smile returning. I’ll get back to you on that. We have far more interesting things to focus on than your stomach. He pulls away far enough to take in the top half of my naked body, his smile widening and eyes picking up sparkles from the sunlight overhead.
Grey dips his chin, leans forward and plants his still-smiling lips on mine. I relish his firm hold on my hips as he teases access to my mouth. I slide my soaked breasts up his chest as I lift onto tiptoes until the swelling flesh at the top of my thighs bumps against his cock.
I curve my hand under his length and guide its tip to the space between my legs. He pushes further into the gap and cups my ass, lifting me until we’re hip to hip, his hot length nestled snugly against my want.
God, I need this man. No. Wait. Stop and reverse that. Man, I need this god.
Grey’s chest quakes because, obviously, he heard what I just thought. He tugs me from the falling water and sits on the top step leading into the tub, where his thighs rest half in and half out of the pool. “Show me what you need, Vanessa.”
I spread my legs and settle onto his lap, eagerly sliding my opening over his more-than-ready shaft. A soft moan rises from my chest as I move to a rhythm aided by the massive palms cupping my ass, lifting and lowering as I slide up and down his length. My moans multiply, assisted by the attention of Grey’s lips as they feather across my neck, throat and chest in a series of fire-lighting kisses. His mouth scorches a nipple while his driving dick kindles sparks, which grow into flames that lick my insides. I up-shift, increasing speed as the glorious pounding of his cock fans my fire into a screaming blaze.
Did I say screaming?
My cries drown the splish-splash of the falling water as I come, clenching around Grey until he releases with a deep-throated gasp.
As energy siphons from me, I slump. He wraps his arms tightly around me. What a perfect way to start the day, I mind-murmur against his shoulder.
He chuckles, lips brushing my ear as he nuzzles my wet hair. Every day should start this way. He slides deeper into the pool, carrying me with him, and we soak, bodies locked together until my hands prune.
“If I stay here any longer, I’ll dissolve.” I give him a half-contented, half-disappointed smile before sliding off his thighs, then stand to reach for a fluffy towel.
Grey watches me while I dry off, then rises. Being a god, he dresses with a flip of the wrist and offers to do the same for me. But I feel like taking my time, maybe applying some scented lotions and messing with my hair.
A soft growl from my not-so-hidden tiger triggers a cocked eyebrow from my Underworld god.
“What’s this about, Grey? I thought dead souls didn’t get hungry.”
“Psyche is prophesied to become immortal. Maybe that’s happening.”
I roll my eyes. “Okay, so I accept that I’m Psyche because she was supposed to reunite Aroz’s two halves, and I did that. But immortal? I’m hardly goddess material.”
“You are; you just don’t believe it. Yet. But first, you must complete your tasks.”
I frown. “Bow — now Aroz — mentioned tasks. What are they all about?”
“You’ve completed the first two. Well, technically three — the third was collecting water from a waterfall. You just need to deliver it.”
“To your mother, who will want to shred my soul since I missed her deadline.” I groan, and my stomach grumbles. “So gods suffer from hunger?”
“They can. While in the Underworld, I draw energy from its core, but in the Overworld, I’m prone to hunger and tiredness, the same as mortals. Upperworld gods are affected similarly.”
“So, if I became immortal, where would my energy come from?”
Grey looks thoughtful. “The prophecy associates you with Aroz, which suggests the Upperworld.”
“But what if I want to hang out with you in the Underworld or Raef in New York?” I mean, NYC is like its own realm. A realm within a realm.
“You’d have the power to go where you pleased, but you’d likely need to eat and sleep. You will always be welcome in the Underworld, Vanessa. And the Overworld is the gods’ playground, so to speak.”
I blink. “Playground?”
“I’m afraid so, Vanessa.”
As in, mortals are toys, and I know from personal experience that some deities like to play rough.
Grey brushes a palm across my cheek. “I’ll see if I can hunt down some breakfast for you.”
I hold back the temptation to smirk. “Hunt? Um. You know I’m vegetarian, right?”
“I’m not aware of a game park in my brother’s palace, but I’m pretty sure he has a pastry chef who makes exceptional bear claws.”
“So, you’ve been to Aroz’s palace before?” I didn’t think the brothers socialized much.
“Before Adonis disappeared and I took my vow to abstain, yes. Quite often, in fact,” Grey admits. “Aroz knows how to throw a party.” With a dimpled grin, he brushes his lips across mine. “The next kiss I get from you will be a lot sweeter.”
“You promise?”
His eyes drift leisurely across my features. “I do.”

Before he leaves, Grey conjures a new-and-improved badass outfit for me — black, of course — but two-piece with a zip-up jacket. They appear, folded on a chaise lounge while a pair of ankle boots take shape on the floor. After a thorough search through my dressing room, I locate a flat drawer in the free-standing wardrobe holding skimpy undies in a rainbow of colors. I select crimson and find a lace bra to match, then lavish my body with lotion before slipping them on.
Who’d have thought donning underwear would seem like a novelty, but I’ve spent so much time naked or pantyless lately, it does. And if I’m honest, I enjoy wearing sexy underwear, especially beneath a badass outfit like this one. I swing my backside toward the mirror to admire the smooth black fabric hugging it and offer my reflection an approving nod.
The bedroom is quiet, save for the slow breaths of its sleeping occupant. Raef lies on his side, an arm flung across the bedding.
As I wander toward him, PK flutters her fuzzy moth wings, adjusts her footing on the ostrich-feathered floor lamp and settles to watch me as I perch on the mattress beside Raef. “Hey, sleepyhead.” When he doesn’t respond, I stroke his outstretched arm until he rouses.
With a deep breath, he lifts his eyelids and sees me.
I love looking into Raef’s eyes. They could be twin Earths, blue-green orbs flecked with gold and brown. Similar to Grey’s, except his are…well, grayer.
“Hi, beautiful.” Raef’s brow dips. “You’re dressed already.” He sits up and looks around. “Did we lose Aroz and Grey?”
“Grey is hunting for bear claws — the sugary kind — and Aroz wasn’t around when I woke. He has a palace to run, I guess.”
Raef pulls in his knees and swings his legs off the bed to sit beside me. “He’s a god and should be able to do that from anywhere.” The barest hint of frustration laces his words. Then his stomach growls.
I pat his bare thigh. “I think we could both use a high-starch breakfast.”
He wraps an arm around my shoulders and pulls me in for a kiss. Happily, I melt into his embrace. It’s so good to be here with him, in the flesh. With Grey and Aroz, too, but they can travel to any realm. They can always reach me when they want to, but not so for Raef.
Gods, it sucks to be mortal, but I keep the thought to myself because Raef feels it more than I do, and I’d rather not think about Grey’s suggestion that I’m destined to join the immortal ranks.
“I should take a shower.” He looks down at his undershorts. “Do you think Aroz has any spares?”
“Well, my dressing room is full, though it somewhat lacks in the undershorts department. Why don’t you check out the awesome shower in my bathroom while I go see what I can find in Aroz’s closet?”
Raef nods, drops a kiss on my lips and heads for the bathroom.
On the other side of my bed lies the doorway Aroz entered through last night. He probably throws on a new pair of undies every day — I mean, I would if I were a god — so he’s sure to have drawers full of boxers ripe for the taking.
I walk to the doorway and step into a bright bedroom with a long balcony open to the outdoors. Its white columns divide the sky beyond into panels of deep blue brushed with cloud.
The furniture throughout the room is minimalist — a wide bed with little embellishment beyond its red velvet cover and matching pillows, a cream couch holding gold cushions and a glass-topped table with two high-backed chairs. The stone floor is covered with area rugs of a dark red shade with gold swirls woven into its deep pile.
I stop at the center of the room and turn in a slow circle, admiring its rich yet uncomplicated beauty.
This is clearly the work of the newly converged Aroz.

Coming soon